"The ideal school is one without walls"
Below is my response to a twitter convo that began with "What is a school?" and evolved into "How does a school bridge the gap between the classroom and external experiences?"
Last semester I finished a course on the culture of poverty. It blew my mind when I realized that every race had a group of people that shared a culture that stemmed from poverty---one of survival, hopelessness, resourcefulness, the value of hardwork,and sufferings from marginalization.
Excited to read about poverty and the people who lived it, I dived right into readings from Oscar Lewis, who was an "expert" on the cultural traits of poverty, and Judith Goode, who defended and understood poor communities in contrast to Lewis. And so, through class discussions and readings, I was under the impression that I was "learning" because I was reading from scholars who dedicated their careers to observing and analyzing poverty.
It wasn't until I was well into writing papers for the course using these sources did I finally stop and say to myself, "I know firsthand what poverty and its culture is like, why must I have old, white-privilaged scholars who never lived it validate my experiences in my paper?" To my frustration, I was learning things I had known all along. If anything, I was the expert.
Which brings me to an answer of the question: How can schools bridge the gap between the classroom and external experiences? Well, we must change the structure of our schools by making the external experiences of the students the focus of the classroom. Much of what we learn in schools, not so much in math and the hard sciences, do not allow us to make use of our experiences unless supported (more like validated) by academically-respected sources. To me, a school, a physical and central structure, is unnecessary and always will be unless we tap into its potential. Rather it be a place of books, structured papers, memorization, grades, superiority, adultism, competition, pressure, tests---it should first and foremost be a safe space where the majority of learning is from each other. If done right, the only true benefit of going to school is having diverse people from all walks of life in one place who are, hopefully, open to meeting and learning from their peers. And then as a result, those experiences will spark curiosity, hunger for knowledge, and action in our communitites.
In many aspects, college is closest to the ideal "school." I think I have learned in my first semester more things from BMC students outside of the classroom than all of my classroom experiences combined.
Although I think BMC is close to my definition of school, as with all structured systems, there is the underlying issue of access---beter yet, lack of access. We live in a country that is not like pre-colonial Africa where knowledge came from inclusive, communal gatherings of storytelling. Instead, in America, to learn and to be "educated," one must go to school. Yet, in too many cases, school, especially college, isn't accessible, for the marginalized people discussed in my course.
So, perhaps the best school is, in fact, one without walls because it is unstructured, welcoming of all, and has the best source: life. Anything otherwise will continue to give too much credit to scholars with a degree--which only confirms completion of a system--and not enough to experiential knowledge from ourselves, our peers, and communities.
With that said, I hope to never again sit through a class and have an experience where I almost went the entire course learning about poverty and not remembering "Oh wait, my experience in this lifestyle has taught me more than any academic observer could teach me."